July 31, 2019
Photograph of Allene Mares.

New Hot Topics in Practice moderator Allene Mares.

Allene Mares joins NWCPHP’s long-standing Hot Topics in Practice webinar series as the new moderator.

Allene Mares has been at the forefront of public health practice since her time as a nurse in the 1970s, through her career with the Washington State Department of Health, from which she recently retired.

Allene was the first AIDS coordinator in Pierce County during the height of the epidemic and later stepped onto the team that would help the state transition into a national leader in the movement around establishing Foundational Public Health Services (FPHS) in every community. Now, Allene will join the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice (NWCPHP) as the new moderator for the long-standing Hot Topics in Practice webinar series.

The monthly webinar is based on topics that have immediate application and value, according to Betty Bekemeier, NWCPHP Director. The moderator is key to helping select discussion areas and leading the conversation. “Allene has her thumb on the pulse of what is happening locally, regionally, and nationally around public and population health issues, prevention practices, and emerging strategies,” Betty said.

Allene has worked at the local level in multiple states, including Ohio and Montana. She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Montana State University and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Washington.

Allene became interested in public health while she was a nursing student and completed a rotation on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation during the summer of 1974. That experience changed her perspective on how public health could be practiced responsibly and thoughtfully.

“It made me think a lot about what we now call social determinants of health and health equity,” Allene said. “It also made me think about white privilege and experiences. I didn’t have the words for it then. None of those words were ones we used in public health at the time. But, the concepts stuck in my mind.”

Within the next decade, Allene would move into work with communicable diseases at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, bringing her experiences with her. While working as the communicable disease coordinator she was tapped to become the county’s first AIDS coordinator. “Looking back, accepting the new AIDS position was one of the best decisions I have made in my career,” she said. “What came out was learning a very different type of thinking about public health.”

Because of the AIDS epidemic, professionals began to consider public health work as more than encouraging individual behavior change. They started to think about what was happening within certain communities, the impact of policies, and how to include policy makers, community-based organizations, and nonprofits into creating health promotion messaging.

“Prior to the AIDS and HIV epidemic, the whole idea of looking at public health from a socioecological model wasn’t happening,” Allene noted. “With HIV, the world of partnerships in public health expanded greatly.”

Not long after joining the Washington State Department of Health in 2008, Allene helped staff a partnership that was tasked with creating a plan for and implementing a new approach to public health services in the state. The approach included a basic set of programs and needed resources for every community in order to protect residents. These later became known as Foundational Public Health Services (FPHS).

“Creating FPHS is easier said than done,” Betty noted. “It’s a huge, very complicated, and politically dynamic undertaking.”

Starting in 2017, Allene was a part of the FPHS project team, leading the work on behalf of the state Department of Health before she retired in June 2018. The FPHS partnership includes federal, state, local, and tribal members. They have submitted three progress reports to the state legislature, resulting in small amounts of new funding for governmental public health in the state. Their work continues today.

Shortly after retiring from the state, Allene came knocking on NWCPHP’s door, looking for ways to stay connected and give back to the public health community. She will be filling the shoes of Sherri McDonald, who has been the moderator since 2016.

“Being the Hot Topics moderator is a way to continue my career in a way that makes the most sense,” Allene said. “It is a great way to stay connected to a field, continue learning, and help keep essential topics at the forefront of discussion.”